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Born anew: Becoming a person you weren't
John Mulder's op-ed column on spiritual journeys and religious conversions (Easter): Turning Around and Finding God

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Date published: 3/31/2013


--The search for God is a staple of human history. The Bible and the history of Christianity are filled with stories of people who have powerful experiences of a divine presence in their lives and of how their lives are transformed. But how this happens is a mystery.

The third chapter of the Gospel of John is famous for its depiction of the heart of Christianity. There Jesus declares, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (3:16).

Jesus' well-known description of himself and God's love comes in the midst of a fascinating story (John 3:1-21). A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus came to Jesus secretly during the night. Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."

Jesus tells him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Here the translations differ. It might be "born from above," but it could also be "born anew," "born of the Spirit," or the widely used phrase, "born again." Whatever the translation, the meaning is clear. A relationship with God means a new birth; it means change; it means becoming a different person.

Nicodemus is puzzled by Jesus' words. He asks, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

Jesus replies, "Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."


This story captures the compelling drama of what it means to find God. It means a rebirth ("You must be born from above"), but how this happens is a mystery ("The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes").

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John M. Mulder is the former president of Louisville Seminary. His most recent book is "Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories" (Eerdmans). He can be contacted at johnmulder1111@gmail.com.